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Aftermath: Rising from Ashes

The drama of the Tulsa Race War scarcely ended when the battle concluded or the last flames died in Greenwood. Most of black Tulsa was homeless, and many hundreds suffered from wounds and injuries. Survivor and author Mary Parrish searingly wrote:

“I can never erase the sights of my first visit to the hospital. There were men wounded in every conceivable way, like soldiers after a big battle. Some with amputated limbs, burned faces, others minus an eye or with heads bandaged. There were women who were nervous wrecks, and some confinement cases. Was I in a hospital in (World War 1) France? No, in Tulsa.”

In the wake of such unprecedented and unexpected savagery and slaughter within the heart of their own city, a large number of influential Tulsa citizens, including Chamber of Commerce leaders, feared more violence. They asked Colonel Patrick J. Hurley (OKLAHOMANS 2, Chapter 7), a prominent Tulsa attorney, bank president, and decorated World War I veteran, to recruit an elite force of one hundred trusted, levelheaded “former Rough Riders, Spanish War veterans, World War I veterans, and plainsmen,” all “having a record as a soldier or sure-shooting peace officer,” as “minutemen” to prevent further violence.

Later famed as United States Secretary of War and Franklin Roosevelt’s personal representative to America’s most important allies during World War II, Hurley was deputized by Sheriff McCullough. Judge and former Tulsa Mayor Loyal Martin, a bitter critic of the current city leadership’s inept handling of the recent events and failure to protect Greenwood, placed complete confidence in Hurley. Judge Martin promised that the Public Welfare Commission “will back him to the limit and that he has absolute power to carry out his clean-up campaign.”

“We are going to disarm the lawless element of the whites and Negroes alike,” tall, broad-shouldered, former frontiersman Hurley declared. Well-known and respected by both races in the city, the Silver Star winner commanded his men the way white lawmen, other than McCullough’s direct subordinates, should have been commanded earlier. They dealt quickly, decisively, and even-handedly with any potential trouble and no further violence occurred.

Rising from Ashes

Thousands of African Americans, meanwhile, remained in the internment camps—coercively at first, then voluntarily once law enforcement determined which individuals would face charges. In one of the heroic sagas of Oklahoma history, however, Greenwood soon began to rebuild itself from the literal ashes. This occurred even as various white attempts commenced in court over black protests to rezone the area—fueling African Americans’ conspiracy accusations—and black ones, initiated by Buck Franklin and other attorneys, did so to recover financial damages.

Within a few years, Greenwood—whose “Black Wall Street” image has, according to historian Hirsch, tended to obscure the fact that the majority of its pre-fire neighborhoods were filled with spartan if not ramshackle dwellings bounded by dirt and mud roads—had arisen in a form superior to its former self. Though many individual whites and white organizations aided these efforts, no great community-wide “Tulsa” effort ever materialized, which further kindled bitterness in the hearts of Greenwood residents.

White financial donations did build a new African American hospital, headed by white Red Cross physician and Canadian native Maurice Willows. It replaced Tulsa’s lone Negro hospital, Frizzell Memorial, which burned down. Also, Red Cross workers cared for black children who were temporarily—or permanently—separated from their parents.

A large but unknown number of black Tulsans, many of them comprising the most talented and promising class, left the city, never to return to it. Others grew up elsewhere, including Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher (OKLAHOMANS 2, Chapter 7). Her pastor father moved his family to Chickasha after their home was burned down during the destruction of Greenwood.

Ada Sipuel was thus born three years later in Chickasha rather than Tulsa. She would become the first African American student at the University of Oklahoma, and actually attended the OU law school.

Homeless newspaper publisher Smitherman moved to New York City. Homeless hotelier and entrepreneurial genius Stradford—unjustly accused of having helped foment the entire event—dodged extradition and lived out his life in Chicago. Renowned surgeon A. C. Jackson, meanwhile, was murdered in cold blood by white gunmen while holding his hands in the air in front of his own home, which was then burned to the ground. Their loss not only to Greenwood, but Tulsa and Oklahoma is incalculable.

The extremity of the destruction, as evidenced in photographs in this chapter, generated another toxic consequence: intergenerational suspicion by many African Americans that Greenwood’s destruction comprised part of a pre-planned master strategy by white Tulsa—including Klansmen in high official positions—to put the city’s blacks “back in their place,” or confiscate their land, or both, and perhaps even to rid the city of them altogether.


The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book

Oklahomans Vol 2 :

Statehood - 2020s

which can be purchased HERE.

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